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Latitude: 52.5136 / 52°30'49"N
Longitude: -2.0799 / 2°4'47"W
OS Eastings: 394676
OS Northings: 290643
OS Grid: SO946906
Mapcode National: GBR 4QD.V9
Mapcode Global: VH91B.W2TW
Plus Code: 9C4VGW7C+F3
Entry Name: Meerkat Enclosure at Dudley Zoo Approximately 2 Yards to East of Reptile House
Listing Date: 18 November 1986
Last Amended: 14 December 2011
Source: Historic England
Source ID: 1279273
English Heritage Legacy ID: 403770
Location: Dudley, DY1
Electoral Ward/Division: Castle and Priory
Built-Up Area: Dudley (Dudley)
Traditional County: Staffordshire
Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): West Midlands
Church of England Parish: Dudley St Edmund King and Martyr
Church of England Diocese: Worcester
An enclosure originally built for reptiles, now occupied by meerkats, designed by Lubetkin and Tecton, and built 1936-7.
PLAN: The enclosure has apsidal ends, wider at the west end than the east.
MATERIALS: Reinforced concrete.
DESCRIPTION: The enclosure is bounded by a continuous low wall, with a wide coping, which dips to the north side, where a horizontal tubular metal bar is inset. The wall has visible upright reeding resulting from the use of corrugated iron shuttering, and retains its original colour and finish. The enclosure nestles snugly into the contour on which it is situated, and makes the most of its position below the castle keep, which provides it with a dramatic backdrop.
The idea of a zoo at Dudley Castle was first mooted in 1935. The site belonged to the Earl Dudley and he, together with Ernest Marsh (director of Marsh and Baxter, a meat producer) and Captain Frank Cooper (owner of the marmalade factory) combined to form the initial board of directors of The Dudley Zoological Society. Captain Cooper owned Oxford Zoo and wanted to sell his own collection of animals. They appointed Dr Geoffrey Vevers, the Superintendent at London Zoo as their Advisor.
Vevers had previously worked with Berthold Lubetkin and Tecton at London Zoo, where their Gorilla House and Penguin Pool were completed in 1934 and 1935 respectively. It was through him that the practice received the commission. In addition, the contractors were J L Kier, for whom the engineer Ove Arup was working at the time, prior to establishing his own company. The resident site engineer was Michael Sheldrake and the job architect was Francis Skinner. The budget for the work was roughly £40,000 and there was pressure from the clients to open the new zoo for the summer season of 1937 and, in Lubetkin’s words, ‘to get as many goods as possible in the shop window’. In the event, the zoo opened on May 6, 1937 and a crowd of c.250,000 arrived, of whom only 50,000 could be admitted.
The thirteen buildings designed by Berthold Lubetkin and Tecton included a restaurant and two cafés. As the Architectural Review of November 1937 made clear, the problem for the designers was as much one of circulation and town planning as of building. A solution was found by free planning, which utilised the natural features of the castle site. At the centre was Dudley Castle, a Scheduled Monument in a state of semi-ruin, dating from the C11 to the C16 and built around a central courtyard.
The site for the zoo was the surrounding grounds of about thirty acres, which slope steeply down from the castle on all sides, forming terraces at different levels. The site had the advantage that the railway station and tram terminus were both within a few yards of the entrance, but several disadvantages had to be overcome; these included the steepness and shape of the site, which reduced the number of possible positions for buildings and enclosures and made construction work difficult. Transport problems to most parts of the castle grounds meant that the existing roads and paths, laid out as carriage drives and pathways in the C19, were used wherever possible, and construction work could not take place in wet weather. Moreover, extensive caverns associated with limestone workings from the C17 and C18 undermined large parts of the site and no accurate maps existed to guide the architects in choosing safe building locations. During construction of the foundations, an unexpected cave, at least fifty feet in depth, opened up beneath the bear pit.
Almost as difficult was the fact that the limestone, which formed the castle mound, was particularly hard, and although this created good foundations, blasting and clearing substantial areas of the site was considered unfeasible. Another consideration was that the castle was scheduled, and the Ancient Monuments department of the Office of Works had a degree of control over development of the castle grounds. Their position was that the educational value of the castle would be increased by the construction of the zoo buildings. Permission was allowed for buildings on the approach slopes to the castle, but those structures which were near to the castle, namely the restaurant, one café and the Elephant House and Sea Lion enclosure, had to be kept as low and inconspicuous as possible. It was also requested that the Sea Lion pools and the Restaurant should incorporate some areas of rubble stone walling to blend with the castle. Further considerations were drainage, and the fact that half of the site was in shadow for most of the day.
A planned route, grouping types of animals together, was not possible. Instead, the buildings had to signal the fact that they were related and the product of one overall scheme through congruities in their design; and functional buildings, such as cafés, lavatories and exits, had to indicate their purpose clearly. The sloping site allowed the architects to create designs which often incorporated two levels, and allowed the public access to viewing platforms above the animal enclosures.
Lubetkin described his role in the creation of the zoo buildings as ‘designing architectural settings for the animals in such a way as to present them dramatically to the public, in an atmosphere comparable to that of a circus’. This attitude was not universally popular at the time and has since been superseded by a desire to give animals more privacy and where possible, a naturalistic setting. Several of the buildings have changed their function since the zoo opened; these include the Reptile Enclosure, the Polar Bear enclosure, the Tropical Bird House, the Bear Ravine and the Elephant House, all of which now house different animals. Both of the cafés, which were originally open-air, have been adapted to be fully enclosed; and the kiosks which formerly sold cigarettes and chocolate are no longer used for this purpose as they do not meet modern environmental health standards for the sale of food. The nature of the construction of the buildings, in reinforced concrete, has caused problems with rusting and spalling of the concrete surfaces, and repairs have been necessary, including patch repairs and a covering of colour wash. Only one major building has been demolished: the Penguin Pool, which was smaller than that at London Zoo, was filled with salt water which reacted with the reinforcement rods embedded in the concrete body and caused rapid and extensive corrosion. The building was demolished in 1979.
Dudley Zoo continues in use as a visitor attraction, and participates in numerous captive breeding programmes to contribute to the conservation of species under threat. The former reptile enclosure now houses a group of meerkats.
The former reptiliary, now the Meerkat Enclosure, at Dudley Zoo, is designated at Grade II, for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: the building is one of twelve surviving structures at the zoo designed by Lubetkin and Tecton, with engineering by Ove Arup, built in 1935-7;
* Design interest: the building's strongly geometric form is designed to create unity with the nearby enclosure for polar bears, tigers and lions, and the elephant house, whose curving forms it reflects;
* Group value: the enclosure demonstrates a strong group identity through the sharing of form, scale, materials and finishing with the other purpose-built structures created by Tecton for the zoo;
* Setting: the enclosure is designed to sit on the steeply-terraced slopes below the ruins of the medieval Dudley Castle, in whose grounds the zoo was created.
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